A Label-less Program
Author: Kathleen Tyner
Patricia Lawrie is on a mission.
A speech communications specialist in the Chaffey School District in Southern
California, she designed a program which expands her role beyond working
with a few "special" students to one which stresses effective communication
in a cooperative, mainstreamed environment forall students. The key to
the programs success has been innovative use of video as a communication
Ms. Lawrie calls her office
"the cave." "I was trained as a "speech therapist"and students came
into my cave to correct their speech 'problem.' Most schoolshave a speech
and language specialist and we want to get out of our caves intoclassrooms
to work with mainstream programs, but we just aren't trained that way."
For Patricia Lawrie, video was the key which got her out of the cave
and into theclassroom.
"At our school, Alta Loma
High School, we incorporated the notion that languagecould not be separated
from speech. The first thing I discovered was thatstudents were enthusiastic
about video as a communications tool. We didn't puttheir faces on the
tape, just their voices and it worked! They found pictures and narrated
an idea and added music. It got them involved in language."
As a communications specialist,
Ms. Lawrie often sees kids who are struggling in school. These kids
are categorized by many terms, "basic kids," "special ed,""at-risk students,"
"ESL," but on the subject of labeling kids she is adamant. "This is
a label-less program. I just call them kids. This communications study
program crosses all disciplinary lines, all curriculum lines. It integrates
very nicely into all levels of learning, every subject. It encourages
knowledge,hands-on use of technology and research of an idea. It incorporates
critical thinking and works beautifully within the framework models.
It is democratic."
A cooperative staff and
administration moved the program along. "I developed someresources,
but the most valuable resources were the teachers. I started by saying,
'You've got several of my kids. Would you like to try something new?"
The teachers and Patricia Lawrie work together as a team with teachersfacilitating
the learning and on-task time and Ms. Lawrie working with cooperative
student groups on technical aspects, organization, sequencing, listening,
"allthose things that we try to teach as speech therapists in drill
and practice thatnever worked."
The first big student video
project was to develop 30-second anti-drug abusepublic service spots.
The spots were intended as entries in a contest sponsored by the Scott
Newman Center, a foundation for the prevention of drug abuse created
by Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.
Even though the students
did not win the contest, they learned technical skills,persuasion techniques,
how commercials are made and directed to audiences. They surveyed their
target audiences, came up with slogans, storyboarded their videos and
got the spots cablecast all over California.
And then there was the
earthquake tape. It started calmly enough. In April of1989, some Etiwanda
High School teachers in the nearby city of Rancho Cucamonga thought
that they needed a drill which encouraged earthquake preparedness. The
teachers, Bill Behrens, Amy Tavaglione and Tim Rudolph met with Alta
Loma staff Diane Ward and Carol Younger to discuss the possibility of
conducting an earthquake preparedness drill. They took their idea to
Marti Higgins, Emergency Operations Officer for the city of Rancho Cucamonga
and the plan was set in motion. Every community agency was involved:
The Sheriff's Department, Fire Department, the Red Cross, the ambulance
people, area hospitals, aviation people,the schools, ham radio operators--every
agency. For a year they worked on the planning of a full-blown disaster
Patricia Lawrie knew how
her students could contribute. "I asked if we could sendthe kids out
with the cameras to get some field reporting experience." She"hunted
down" seven cameras and three tripods. The students practiced for twoweeks
hand-holding the cameras. Student work teams were paired at random across
all traditional class divisions. The groups practiced the sequence of
events and where they were supposed to be. "I didn't care what they
did as long as they got the shots on the shot list. I told them: Do
not pan, do not zoom and stay on manual focus." It was serendipity.
The students got their
shots. They interviewed every possible person they could button hole:
the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, the principal, the aviation people.
They shot hospital workers applying "moulage," special make-up which
simulatesinjury, to students. They got in the helicopters and took off
with the "victim" to the hospital, cameras rolling. The students were
tired, but proud of themselves when they handed their teacher the field
"I looked at those tapes
and I was just amazed. We had a full- blown disaster on tape," says
Ms. Lawrie. "We had some really hot stuff there and decided that we
should go beyond the exercise on field experience and put together a
tape abouthow to organize a disaster simulation. It was all there."
Carol Younger and Marti Higgins wrote a script and decided that they
would give themselves a year or so to edit the final tape with the students.
That was before the October 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Rancho Cucamonga
officials called and asked if the teachers could move up the editing
a bit--to December 1. Under a tight deadline, the students worked with
their teacher to produce a tape on earthquake preparedness, Partners
in Preparedness, which has been shown to community organizations, city
agencies and high schools throughout California.
For Alta Loma High School
this program has been a success. "I have never had a failure in this
program. Not one kid has ever declined to participate. Teachers are
amazed. Kids who have not done one thing all year are staying after
school to finish their projects," says Patricia Lawrie. "The biggest
complaint of businessis that when kids graduate they do not communicate
well and they don't know how to work cooperatively. This program addresses
both of those concerns through cooperative learning and teaching effective
communication skills. And it works.Communication belongs everywhere."
Partners in Preparedness
is being sold through the Chaffey School District for$25. All proceeds
go toward disaster preparedness programs in the District'sarea. To obtain
a VHS copy, send your check to Chaffey Unified School District,Disaster
Relief Program, 511 W. 5th Street, Ontario, CA.
Kathleen Tyner is an educator
and author.This article first appeared in the Spring 1990 issue of Strategies
Quarterly. Reprinted permission of author.